Friday, November 14, 2014

THE CAPTAIN'S JACKET -- Extraordinary Moments on a Riverboat Cruise


Extraordinary Moments on a Riverboat Cruise

            We guessed it would be this way—that our river-cruising adventures on a Tauck Tour would be better planned, less commercial, and more fun than most other tours. Our prediction was based on an adventure thirty years ago, when Bob and I were part of a Tauck Tour heli-hiking trip, dropped off by whirlybirds for a series of hikes through Canada’s Cariboo mountains. As travelers allergic to regimentation, Bob and I we were astonished at Tauck’s light touch. In fact we found the adventure so enjoyable we did it twice.

But does anything stay the same?

Apparently some things do; for us, this last month, the light touch continued. Traveling by Tauck river boat along the Danube, Main, and Rhine rivers from Budapest to Amsterdam, we could visit all the castles, churches, museums and shops available to tourists—bused there by our cruise—or led through cobblestone streets by our guides. (Alternatively, we could stay on board and loaf.)

For us, an extraordinary moment came early. The second day I decided we should both buy jackets. Bob and I were in the ship’s small boutique, looking them over, when I realized the ship had sold out of the good-looking ones I’d seen on staff. At that moment, a very tall, very handsome man wandered into the area. With no idea who he was, I took one look, pointed, and said with a grin, “There’s the jacket I want!”

Without a moment’s hesitation, the man shrugged his way out of the garment and handed it to me, mumbling under his breath that I might want to get it washed. I was astonished--and thrilled. But then I saw the I.D. badge pinned to his shirt. The amazing  gentleman was Patrick Tietz, the ship’s captain. For the rest of the day I couldn’t stop telling the story. Someone said, “I bet you’ll wear it a lot,” and I said, “I may sleep in it.”

Notable moments kept coming. A few nights later, Bob and I decided the ship’s musician was playing such great music we had to get up and dance. When no one joined us, we felt obligated to give it our all, even Bob with his cane. At the end, all the spectators clapped. In a moment of celebration, Bob raised his cane, gave a great wave, and broke the chandelier. Above our heads, glass cascaded onto the floor. Neither of us could believe what he’d done. To bursts of laughter, we crept back to our seats. Next day crew members were on ladders fixing the chandelier, and a passenger said, “Oh, you’re the couple that brought down the house.”

Taulk didn’t charge us for the breakage—or anything else. You might say the only expense was to our bodies—the one or two miles we ended up walking each day. Once again, Bob and I did our bit, Bob with his cane, me taking deep breaths. And lo—our three big meals each day did not add a single pound.

As a family of six (two sons and their wives) we kept attracting attention. One night we won the ship’s trivia contest. Another night a paper napkin on our table fell across a candle, and within seconds all the napkins around us were aflame. As we beat out flames, the announcer stopped talking and said, “I see we’ve got a little fire over here.”

Two more nights our group again won the Trivia contests . . . once because the judges asked for original ways to convey the answers and, among some clever maneuvers by Kenny, Chris flew our response in on a paper airplane. 

By prior arrangement with Tauck, I gave an afternoon speech on the topic, “Do you want to write a memoir?” which brought me new friends and readers.   

Tauck paid for everything—including ship bicycles for the everyday use of Kenny and Melanie, Chris and Betty-jo (they rode through most towns), all the shore excursions, three meals a day (whether on or off the boat), tips for the staff, even cocktails and wine at meals. We arrived home with most of our money still in our pockets.

Best of all, we came back with the glitter of gold-leaf in castles and churches still affixed to memory.  On another level, we suspect more than a few people will remember us.

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